On Monday, Aleph Book Company announced that it would not reprint Wendy Doniger's On Hinduism, which is now out of stock, until a team of four independent writers and scholars had assessed the merits of the work.

The publishing company took this decision in response to a legal notice it received earlier this month from Dinanath Batra, the convener of the Hindu extremist group, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. According to Aleph, Batra claimed in his letter that there were many objectionable passages in Doniger’s book that offended the sensitivities of the Hindu community. He also threatened to take legal action if the publisher did not withdraw the book by March 10.

"Once we have received their reports we will discuss them with the author and the complainant in order to find a solution that satisfies all parties," Aleph said in the statement on its website. "The author concurs with our course of action."

Batra and his Hindu extremist colleagues claim to have been angered by the “sexual thrust” of Doniger’s “titillating sexual tapestry”.

His notice quotes several passages from On Hinduism, cited without context, claiming that they are distortions of history. His objections include references to the domination of Dalits and women by Brahmin men; the rape of a celestial courtesan by Ravan; and the suggestion that Vivekanada opposed caste discrimination and opposed the edict against eating beef.

When Penguin India buckled under Batra’s pressure, it issued a statement claiming that it has an obligation “to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be”.

In reality, Indian law provides a stout bulwark against bullies like Batra, if only publishers were brave enough to take them on. There are several precedents to draw from.

In 2011, for instance, the Delhi High Court overturned the objections of the Censor Board to Shabnam Virmani’s documentary Had-Anhad (Bounded-Boundless) on Kabir’s interpretation of the Ramayana. The Censor Board picked on, among other things, the phrase “that militant Ram used to stoke Hindu-Muslim hatred in India today”. It cited Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code – the same clauses that Batra is brandishing – that the religious sentiments of Hindus would be hurt and that communal amity would be jeopardised.

That failed to cut any ice with the Delhi High Court. In its ruling, not only did the court emphasise the need to uphold, protect and promote diversity of interpretations, however offensive, it went a step further, holding that restrictions on expression must be justified “on the anvil of necessity and not on the quicksand of convenience or expediency”.

Moreover, the court noted that stray phrases and random sentences, dragged out of context, could be a perpetual source of incendiary material to a willing mind, and hence, were impermissible in judging probable harm.  The apprehensions about the likely fallouts of Virmani’s work were held to be unfounded, based on conjectures and surmises, and not on a reasonable appreciation of imminent harm.

The victory of James W Laine and Oxford University Press over the Shiv Sena provides another source of confidence. After the Sena demanded that the American scholar’s book on Shivaji, Hindu King in Islamic India, the Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that a scholarly work should never be deemed as being malicious or scurrilous enough to attract the provisions of Sections 153A and 295A.

These two judgments were founded upon a robust tradition of free speech jurisprudence.

It has long roots. In 1971, the Bombay High Court had prevented the Maharashtra government from banning Gopal Godse’s Gandhi Hatya Ani Mee. Not only did the book glorify and justify Gandhi’s assassination, it also contained a screed against Muslims. Despite it being overtly risible, the court protected the book, since no direct cause could be made out between the expression and apprehended detriment to communal harmony. “The expression of thought should not be intrinsically dangerous to public interest, and this has to be judged not from the weak and vacillatory minds of those who sniff danger at every hostile or opposing point of view,” the judgment said.

With the might of the law on their side, Doniger and Aleph should have no problem standing up to Batra’s charges.